The amazing history of Nairobi’s City Park

The amazing history of Nairobi’s City Park. Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

The 102-year old park and the Murumbi Memorial Park are free entry

Cyclone Freddy cast a cool sky on Nairobi in mid-March, making it a great escape into this people’s park, a green space that’s a mix of an upland dry forest and grass plains, a remnant from when ‘Nyarobe’ was a place of cool waters, as the Maasai called it. 

We’re on the Wednesday morning bird walk, stepping into a natural world that’s soothing to the soul.

The trees are in full bloom: the local sausage tree with huge crimson flowers and the sausage-like fruit from which people brew muratina; the Albizzia full of pretty pink florets and the Mountain immortelle, an exotic tree from South America in brilliant orange. The trees are in the plant nursery area as we begin the Wednesday bird walk, started by the amazing octogenarian Fleur Ng’weno from the Nairobi Museum car park in 1971. She’s with us, her signature binoculars in hand, a much-loved mentor to all.

The amazing history of Nairobi’s City Park. Photo | Pool

The first feathered beauty to log on the bird apps is the Black-headed Heron standing at the edge of a reed bank looking out at the sprawling city’s high rises and traffic. Until recently, birders kept log of the birds with pen and paper to be later keyed in and filed. The modern-day birder uses bird apps like Kenya Bird Map’s Birdlasser and eBird that can be downloaded for free. 

 In the grand picture of things, these online bird lists tell the story of how the state of the environment is changing via the feathered kind, like when a wetland is destroyed the water birds disappear or when a forest is destroyed the forest birds vanish and when the grasslands are turned into farms or housing estates, the grassland birds become vulnerable or nearly extinct like Kenya’s Sharpe’s Longclaw.

A few steps away we’re at the Murumbi Memorial Park created by the late Alan Donovan of the African Heritage House. He and former Vice-President Joseph Murumbi opened the largest Pan-African art gallery and were life-long friends. The park is the final resting place of Joseph Murumbi and his wife Sheila, surrounded by sculptures by some of the finest artists in Africa like Elkana Ongesa's stunning sculpture ‘The Bird of Peace Emerging from the Stone of Despair’ from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech and ‘Woman at the Gate’ metal sculpture by Francis Nnaggenda in the 1970s. 

Murumbi was a key player in Kenya’s fight for independence, as was his friend and mentor Pio Gama Pinto, who got Murumbi into politics and later became the victim of the country’s first political assassination in 1965. He is buried a few metres away in the City Park cemetery. 

The decades old bandstand in City Park Nairobi. Photo | Pool

Crossing over the road, the path winds its way through the forest where a Colobus monkey surprises us. These black and white monkeys rarely coming to the ground have been the victims of the farmers’ wrath when converting the forests into farms in Central Kenya. Desperate to save the beautiful monkeys, Solomon Gitau, a local in the area, raised the alarm. Troops of Colobus were moved to Soysambu on Elmenteita’s shores and to Karura forest in Nairobi.  “It may have come from Karura forest,” observes Peter Mureithi, Nature Kenya’s membership officer.

In a wooded area, the first Willow Warbler of the day is logged. It could fit in the palm of my hand. Being March, this tiny bird is on its way back to a sunnier Europe, some flying northeast as far as Siberia. For now, it’s busy feeding to double its weight for the 6,000-kilometre flight home where it will breed and lay the eggs for the next generation. 

Playground in City Park Nairobi. Photo | Pool

Naturally Nairobi

The 102-year old park and the Murumbi Memorial Park are free entry. City Park has a children’s playground and a Bowling Green restaurant. Be a responsible citizen – do not litter or feed the Sykes monkeys. Caution – do not wander through the forest alone.

Join Nature Kenya and enjoy the many activities. It’s a great way to stay fit, enjoy the outdoors and learn about the dynamics of the natural world.

Nairobi is a fascinating city hosting remnant forests and the amazing Nairobi National Park.